Olekminsky Zapovednik’s 3,270 square miles (8,471 km2) of virgin boreal forest—a U.N. World Heritage Site—offer sanctuary to browsers from enormous moose to tiny musk deer along with their numerous predators. These include wolves, lynx, massive brown bears, red foxes, and fierce wolverines, small but able to take on prey much larger than themselves, including reindeer.
Golden eagles—largest and most majestic of their tribe—nest, as do dusky, rare hooded cranes, among 10 endangered bird species, including ospreys, demoiselle cranes, black storks, peregrine falcons, and little and eastern curlews.
Hawk owls hunt by day but call by night, a bubbling “prullulu” trill, soft accompaniment to great gray owls’ booming “hu-hu-hoo.” Black woodpeckers 18 inches (45 cm) long announce their presence with manic, high-pitched laughs and long, powerful drum rolls on forest trees. Others among 180 bird species sharing this habitat are red-necked nightingales, Siberian (dark-sided) flycatchers, hazel grouse, capercaillies.
Endemic Siberian sables, hunted to the brink of extinction for their rich brown fur, have come back with protection and number some 2,500 here today. In addition to virgin woodlands which cover 87.9 percent of the reserve are remnant meadows along riverbanks and wetlands that cover 2.1 percent and provide critical habitat for grazers, birds, amphibians, and other aquatic species. The entire zapovednik is covered with permafrost 300–600 feet (100–200 m) thick, topped with 6–12 feet (2–4 m) of soil that thaws in summer, allowing vigorous tundra vegetation to come to life.
Remoteness has made monitoring difficult, given short staffs, which are also charged with researching a neighboring reserve, established with assistance of World Wide Fund for Nature and 1.5 times the size of the zapovednik—an enormous natural treasure-house.
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